Those who do creative work almost always need images, however, not every project has the budget to finance these. Free stock photo providers promise an easy and hassle-free solution, however, they come with their own drawbacks.
This is because such platforms rarely concern themselves with securing model or property releases. To avoid any nasty surprises, if you're going to use free stock content providers, make sure that these don't include trademarks or identifiable people. Unsplash seeks to make this easier by offering one of the fastest-growing websites for free and high-quality stock photography. We took a closer look to see just how good it actually is.
What Is Unsplash?
Unsplash's ⇱ story begins in 2013 with a minimalist Tumblr ⇱ blog. The founders of a start-up, Crew, had 10 pictures left after making a blog post and offered these under a CC0 license for free and unconditional download.
Demand was unexpectedly high, and the founders decided to offer more photos. By September 2014, their catalog had grown to 776 photos and it was necessary to set up a unique domain to host them. Around 8,000 photographers uploaded their high-quality work to the database thereafter. The breakthrough was ultimately achieved after agreeing to cooperate with Apple.
In 2017, the platform parted ways with Crew, leading to the creation of an independent company, Unsplash. Getty Images purchased this in March 2021, and reportedly, wants to continue to offer free stock photos. Unsplash only offers stock photos.
Unsplash developed within a few years to become one of the largest providers of free stock photos online.
Pros and Cons
Possible to use for free and without an account
Not necessary to credit sources
Offers unlimited downloads
Only photos - no illustrations, videos, or audio
Limited filter options
Configuration & Usage
You won't need an account to start downloading photos from Unsplash: Simply click on the image you like and save it to your computer or device. Alternatively, if you register, you can save photos to your favorites, give likes, or follow photographers whose work you appreciate. This is easy enough to do either via email verification or a Facebook account.
You can sign up with Unsplash easily via email or your Facebook account. It is possible to download images without an account.
Unsplash welcomes users with a well-structured homepage, on which photos are the star. Your attention will likely be drawn to the search field, after which you might notice the different categories running along the page's banner.
Unsplash is concerned almost entirely with photos.
All about photos
Those visiting Unsplash can look forward to more than 2 million photos, many of which are of premium quality. You might ask yourself why so many photographers offer their work to the community for free. With a bit of research, you'll find the answer: Professional photographers upload their leftovers to Unsplash in order to generate publicity and advertise themselves to potential clients. Best of all, this seems to work, most of the time at least.
Turning to the platform, it self-finances through ads and investors. If you click on Advertise in the menu above the banner, you can see which companies collaborate with Unsplash and how businesses promote their brand, namely, by making free photos available that feature their product. The motto seems to be: "People don't trust ads. People trust people. Brands don't need to be advertised, but only to have people using them in believable contexts or situations.“
Brands can invest in photo content on Unsplash, rather than traditional ad campaigns.
Minimum budget - $50,000
Embracing this concept endows Unsplash with more legal security when it comes to photos featuring trademarked products or models since those companies waive their rights to it. In addition, it also fuels Unsplash's operations since the companies pay for this privilege. And the businesses utilizing this campaign are not no-names either: Google, Harley-Davidson, Square, Samsung, Boxed Water, Le Creuset, and Timberland have all collaborated with Unsplash.
All of these businesses have one goal: To raise brand awareness through editorial content. This is because content is still king and marketing it successfully adds a new dimension to how enterprises approach promotion. According to Unsplash, the program is currently not accepting new members, however, you can sign up for a waiting list. The only condition is that you're ready to make an investment of at least $50,000.
Brands can use Unsplash to advertise instead of relying on classic marketing materials.
Unsplash offers excellent images, with the only challenge finding the right motifs. For example, if you click on the category Business & Work, a detailed overview of all images featuring this phrase appears. Instead, we recommend inputting Business & Work in the search field, which will yield around 10,000 photos and collections, that can be further refined using the limited filters. Following its acquisition by Getty Images, it remains to be seen whether more user-friendly search tools will be integrated.
You'll only be able to rely on a few filters to refine your Unsplash photo searches.
Search for similar images
All the same, Unsplash does offer users the ability to search for images similar to those they upload. When we tested this with a few animal pictures, our results were mixed: For the dog picture, the alternatives Unsplash provided were relevant, however, for a horse, they were a bit wanting. When looking for alternatives to our web hosting image, the options took a very open interpretation of the phrase, including a bamboo forest and concrete apartment buildings, but nothing that was relevant.
Searching for similar images only works when the photo you upload has a clear subject matter. The more abstract it is, the odder the results.
Along with photos, you'll find a small hamburger menu off to the upper right of the homepage's header. After clicking on this, you'll see three main headings, Company, Product, and Community. Under the first heading, you can find out more about the company and its history, as well as check for updates and news. The second heading, Product includes links to Unsplash's apps & plugins, API, and other developer information. Rounding things out, the third heading lists Topics (where images are sorted thematically), Collections, Stats, and Unsplash Awards which showcases the best photos on the platform.
If you want to know where and how photos from Unsplash can be used, it's worth casting your glance towards the example page.
API for easy integration, app and plugins for greater convenience
Unsplash clearly has a host of technically-literate contributors and employees, visible in its usage of the most modern integration technology. More than 10,000 apps are compatible with the database, including blog software, such as Medium or Squarespace.
And in order to access the platform on the go, Unsplash also offers an easy-to-use app. Those who work with WordPress or Google Chrome can take advantage of plugins that make it possible to directly access photos. Unsplash definitely wants to make finding and sharing photos as easy for users as possible.
Practical and user-friendly: Unsplash utilizes APIs.
Easy to handle, excellent content
Those scanning the Web for high-quality photos won't be disappointed with Unsplash. The platform is easy to use, however, it does take a little bit of time to get the most out of it since you'll be offered lots of system-generated recommendations for any search terms you input. Don't be discouraged though, since the platform's content is worth it. The only major area for improvement is in terms of filters.
Score: 3.3 / 5
Selection of Stock Photos
You won't be pressed for choice on Unsplash. However, just because the platform offers plenty of beautiful images doesn't mean that it can handle more everyday topics as effectively. For that reason, we evaluated the database's strengths on the basis of five basic keywords and phrases: Web hosting, ecommerce, antivirus, business, and email marketing.
Web hosting: For our first search, Unsplash returned 3,300 images, most of which showed laptops, with only a few depicting server infrastructure. These were high-quality and modern, but nothing really caught our eye. Clicking on the system-generated tags below the search bar merely creates a new search for that term.
By clicking on Collections, the results are even more precise, featuring titles such as "Internet", "IT", and "Web Tech".
For web hosting, the image results weren't anything out of the ordinary, however, the collections did offer more content.
Ecommerce: For this, Unsplash returned 296 image hits and around 1,100 collections. By clicking on the "Online Shopping" tag, this increased to 4,700 images and more than 10,000 collections. We found a number of interesting photos, including those for special events such as Black Friday. Unfortunately, even when using the filters, not enough irrelevant options are sifted out, making the search rather tedious and time-consuming.
Unfortunately, for our second search, we received plenty of results for shopping, but only a handful that related to doing so online.
Antivirus: For this term, Unsplash served up 6 images, one of which had nothing to do with tech. "Computer Virus" returned more than 10,000 images, and these looked decent, if not slightly repetitive.
For antivirus the results were surprisingly limited, however, with computer virus, we had more luck.
Business: Unsplash does better with this topic, offering more than 10,000 images to select from. Results can be somewhat refined using the tags, only displaying hits that specifically show the world of finance or marketing.
Email marketing: We weren't particularly impressed with Unsplash's options here, so we tried just "email" by itself, which gave a few useful suggestions. Still, searching wasn't enjoyable and the yield was low.
Flowers and landscapes aren't what one would typically associated with email marketing.
Depending on the topic, Unsplash offers fantastic content. For our run-of-the-mill searches, however, the platform evidenced some major shortcomings. Compounding the uninspired assortment, the filters on offer are more of a hindrance than a help.
Score: 2.7 / 5
Selection of Videos, Audio, Vector Graphics & Illustrations
Unsplash only offers photos. Staffers we interacted with could not tell us whether this was going to change in the near or distant future.
Score: 1 / 5
Unsplash's license is based around the CC0 license, which permits everything, albeit with one key difference: With Unsplash's license, you cannot resell images without making significant changes to them, or use them to augment or create a competing platform.
Since many of Unsplash's images feature trademarked brands, celebrities, or stars, we queried the company to be on the safe side. The answer we received reveals that the topic is not as straightforward as it appears at first glance.
While the Unsplash license basically allows anyone to use images for commercial and private purposes, trademark and model releases need to be acquired separately.
With that in mind, those who think that they can promote their brand using a stock photo that features Coca-Cola, implying some sort of association with the soft-drink giant, run the risk of a nasty and expensive legal surprise. The same holds true with photos of celebrities.
You should not use photos from Unsplash as carefree as the platform's license seems to imply. Be especially careful with images featuring trademarks or celebrities.
Unsplash doesn't accept any responsibility
When we queried Unsplash support, they told us that each user is responsible for securing the trademark and model rights when publishing an image from the platform. We were told to get in touch with the photographer and request a release from the model in writing.
Score: 3 / 5
You can access the platform's help center by clicking on the hamburger menu in the upper right corner of the screen and selecting the appropriately named option from the bottom of the first column. By clicking on it, you'll be forwarded to an external page, where answers to a number of different topics and questions are provided. Should you be unable to find what you're looking for, if logged in, you can click on Support in the footer and leave a message for support.
Unsplash offers its users a neatly-arranged FAQ. Contact options are only accessible with some searching.
We received friendly and competent responses to our queries within 24 hours.
Score: 4.3 / 5
Unsplash is free, however, be forewarned that the platform does not accept any responsibility in the event of a trademark or intellectual property dispute. Since these can be very expensive, it is recommended to exercise caution when using material from the platform for commercial purposes.
|Price per Month||$0.00|
|Contract Period (Months)||0|
|Photos / Month||unlimited|
|Videos / Month||0|
Online & Print
Marketing & Ads
The table below shows the annual costs for downloading licenses to 10 stock photos per month compared to the rates for doing the same on the other stock photo platforms from our sample.
Unsplash offers high-quality photos that depict interesting and beautiful motifs. This makes the platform ideal for anyone looking for artistic media, such as natural subject matter for your blog. On the other hand, if you're after stock photos for your business or employer, the lack of filters and uninspired selection mean that Unsplash is not the best database you can utilize. In addition, since the platform offers "free" photos, you have to take the legal risks of using photos sourced from it into consideration.
Unsplash is constantly growing. To see what its users have to say about the platform, we gathered together verified reviews from trusted portals.
Pexels also offers free content, which will come in handy for ecommerce and more business-based searches. If you're only looking for stock photos every now and then, Adobe Stock is another alternative. The premium platform serves up quite a number of high-quality photos at no cost.
On the other hand, if you're ready to make a small investment in order to be on the safe side of the law, you should consider a paid provider. One of these, Despositphotos gets our stamp of approval for its appealing selection of media, helpful filters, and excellent price-performance ratio. There are also a few free images to be found on its database as well.
More of the best alternatives to Unsplash can be found here: